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Sunday, April 26, 2009

"Secret Decoder Ring" Revealed!

A few months ago I, with two of my brothers and my mother (who is 90 years old), attended two training classes at the Genealogy Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. I gained some most important information from that training that has been helpful for me while Indexing and Arbitrating records.

Even though the instructors had two different styles of teaching, I was able to learn. The first instructor was eager to answer all of our questions and took the time to make sure that we were “coming along” with her as she moved through her material. The second instructor had a lot of material that she made sure she covered, whether or not we understood. She, however, gave us some invaluable references to sources on the internet that will, I’m sure, be helpful as needed.

The BEST and most HELPFUL instruction came during the informal discussions that I had with them concerning the examples of “unreadable names” that I had brought with me. They were names that I had stewed over and over, and still couldn’t make out just what was written. I was hoping that the “experts” could give me the “secret decoder ring” that would enlighten my eyes.

Well, it turned out that neither of them could read them either! Who would have thought that! I was surprised that neither of them could help me with my dilemma. Instead, they both ended up giving me the same advice. This advice turned out to be the best and most helpful, long-term advice that I could have received. They said that the best way to “decode” the unreadable was to use the document itself.

In other words, let the writer of the document give other examples that will provide the needed clues to read and understand the “hard spots” in the document. Doing that gives better guidance than others trying to decipher it from their point of view. (This, by the way, is just like reading and properly interpreting the Scriptures!... Let them define their own terms and provide the proper context for understanding and application.)

That one principle… to use the document itself to show me how to read difficult names… has been of greatest benefit as I continue to Index and Arbitrate documents. Having patience and a continual prayer for help as I’ve worked has, I’m sure, helped accurately identify my distant cousins (“cousins”… because we’re all related!). I am grateful for the instruction that I received from the SLC training sessions.


  1. Wow! What a great find! Thanks for the "MAP"!!

  2. This, of course, was a great tip. If you can find another word with what appears to be the same single alphabet character, it may then give you a second context for the character, and hence help decipher it. The letter probably appears more than once in the document.

    Thanks, Norman, for sharing this tip.